In his weekly address to the nation on 25 August, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte said that he has no plans in forming a “revolutionary government” or “Rev-Gov”, and is not in whatsoever way connected to the call of one of those groups that support him for a “revolutionary government”, contrary to what his political detractors are claiming. Palace officials said that the President's primary focus and pre-occupation among others is the nation’s response and fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The President’s spokesperson, Harry Roque underscored that Duterte is not in any way involved in the recent actions of those behind the movement calling for a revolutionary form of government. Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo likewise said in a statement on 23 August that, “the call for a revolutionary government must come from the people and not from a single organisation or an individual. It must be an overwhelming call, and there is no present perceptible people’s clamour for such."
The group calling for “Rev-Gov” is the “Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte-National Executive Coordinating Committee or MRRD-NECC.” 300 of its members gathered in Clark, Pampanga on 22 August to call on Duterte to lead a revolutionary government to “heal all the ills” of society. The group believes that through “Rev-Gov” the process of “charter change” will be hastened since a “constitutional convention” or “constituent assembly” is no longer possible given the limited time.
The shift in the political system of government of the Philippines from unitary to federal is a campaign promise Duterte made during the 2016 national elections. To note, “Federalism” is a mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government (central or 'federal' government) with regional governments (provincial, state, or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system. Simply put, there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status.”
Why The Call For Rev-Gov?
The primordial motivation behind the call for “Rev-Gov” among supporters of Duterte – specifically members of the MRRD-NECC – is the establishment of a new federal constitution. The impetus behind this call for the shift in the system of government from unitary to federal and its form from presidential to parliamentary is to empower the marginalised, destitute, and deprived regions of the country, and to end the supremacy of “imperial Manila.”
A federal system of government is also said to level-off the playing field and facilitate more inclusive socio-economic development in the country as opposed to more centralised economic and development-related activities. Currently, most of the economic activities of the country like “export processing zones” are located in greater Manila and that includes the Calabarzon region, except the ones in Cebu and Baguio. The National Capital Region (NCR) also known as “Metro Manila” takes the lion’s share of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Furthermore, supporters of Duterte believe that a revolutionary government is the only way to fast-track the constitutional reforms needed, which to some extent has been swept over by the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will pave way for the political, economic, and socio-cultural change they have been aspiring for the country, given the fact that Duterte has more or less only two-years left in office. They envisage “RevGov” as the fastest operative way to dismantle flawed and defective political institutions where corruption is ingrained and deep-seated.
“Rev-Gov” for this group of Duterte supporters is the expeditious way to get rid of “deadwood” and mediocre people” in government while attracting a new breed of progressive leaders to enter into government service; doing away with the vicious cycle of “patronage politics, and political dynasties” that have menaced the country since time immemorial.
Also, “Rev-Gov” is the fastest way to put an end to timeworn and long-established oligarchic business practices and establishments that have been ripping-off the country for ages.
Hence, the call for “Rev-Gov” is more than just changing the constitution of the country. Rather, “Rev-Gov” to a considerable extent serves as the antidote for the many ills of Philippine society that needs to be uprooted and transformed to establish a just society and decent living conditions for all Filipinos. “Rev-Gov” is the embodiment of the aspirations of Duterte’s supporters that meaningful change must take root in the Philippines sooner than later.
Hindsight And Perspective
A revolutionary government or “Rev-Gov” is not strange to the Philippines. If you look at the history of the country, a “Rev-Gov” or “provisional government” has been declared several times over in the Philippines since the Spanish colonisation. The first “Rev-Gov” was the “Katipunan Revolutionary Government.” Then there was the “Republic of Biak na Bato”, the “Tejeros Revolutionary Government”, and the “1986 Provisional Government of the Philippines.”
These are just some of the examples of “rev-gov(s)” declared in the country many times over. However, if one examines closely, all these “rev-gov(s)” were declared because of the presence of “revolutionary situations”, a political situation indicative of a possibility of a revolution. Thus far, such a “revolutionary situation” is not imminent in the country.
Hence, “Rev-Gov” is unlikely to happen. Furthermore, for “Rev-Gov” to materialise, a strong “critical mass” is a necessity. The call for a “Rev-Gov” by members of the MRRD-NECC does not have “critical mass” at the moment. In addition to that, Duterte has already distanced himself from those who are calling for a “Rev-Gov”.
Likewise, the vision of a federal Philippines is not something new. Even the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal had a vision of a more federalised Philippines as exemplified in his essay titled, “Las Filipinas Dentro de Cien Anos (The Philippines a Century Hence) published in “La-Solidaridad”, a Barcelona-based propaganda paper in 1889-1890 during the Spanish colonisation, where Rizal expressed his deepest desire by saying, “As the tendency of countries that have been tyrannised over, when they once shake off the yoke, is to adopt the freest government…like the beat of the pendulum, by a law of reaction the Islands will probably declare themselves a federal republic.”
Even Filipino revolutionaries like Emilio Aguinaldo and Apolinario Mabini during the Philippine Revolution against Spain in 1898, supported the aspiration of Rizal and suggested dividing the islands into three federal states. However, this aspiration had been swept over by 50 years of American occupation.
Nevertheless, in the same manner, that the call for “Rev-Gov” is at the moment without the needed “critical mass,” the proposed shift to a federal system of government also lacks the same in present-day Philippines. The majority of Filipinos based on the June 2018 survey of Pulse Asia is not predisposed to a shift in the system of government from unitary to federal. Out of the 1,800 respondents, 62 percent were not in favour of the proposed shift to federalism, which was four notches down from the survey in March 2018.
34 percent of Filipinos were against changing the system of government regardless of the timing of such a change, while 28 percent were opposed to changing it but maybe open to it sometime in the future. On the other hand, 28 percent of Filipinos were supportive of a shift to a federal form of government while 10 percent were undecided.
One of the factors that could explain the survey results is the limited awareness and knowledge of Filipinos with regard to the proposed “charter change” and about federalism. The same survey conveyed that about three-quarters of Filipinos (74 percent) have little/almost no/no knowledge at all about the present charter while only 55 percent said they were aware of the proposal to amend the constitution. The survey also showed that 69 percent of Filipinos had “little to no knowledge” about federalism while only 31 percent indicated they knew a "great deal to sufficient."
Hence, it is understandable that the clamour for “charter change” and a shift to the federal system of government has not yet reached a “critical mass” because people don’t have much knowledge and awareness about it. Hence, for the shift to a federal system of government to gain more momentum, it is imperative to educate and raise awareness about federalism and why there’s a need for a shift in the system of government.
A strong critical mass is needed for any “charter change” to succeed.
Though the contention and the “rai·son d'ê·tre” of the call for “Rev-Gov” is to some extent noble and a principled one, nonetheless, the means to achieve such an end are by its nature extra-constitutional and unconstitutional. Any proposal to amend the 1987 Constitution through undemocratic and unlawful means is self-defeating and superfluous. Also, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic makes the call for “Rev-Gov” untimely and counter-productive.
Moreover, there’s a need to balance and manage the expectations that federalism will solve the country’s problems because that would be an exaggeration. Federalism is more like a conduit and a vehicle toward change rather than a “magic wand” that will solve all the ills of Philippine society. But through federalism, to some degree, the regions will have more flexibility to plan and map-out socio-economic development. This will drive them to innovate on their own based on their resources and capacities.
In this way, economic development and opportunities will be spread more evenly compared to the current system of government, where economic development is centred in metropolitan and huge cities like “imperial Manila”.
On the other hand, the need for a “charter change” in the Philippines is quite imperative and vital because the current constitution is not as responsive as it should be. For instance, there is a need to amend the provisions on electoral reforms to discourage “turncoat-ism”, to operationalise the “anti-dynasty” provision of the 1987 Constitution; and reduce or eliminate the constitutional restrictions against foreign direct investment (FDI) among others.
However, such a process should not be done in a hasty and injudicious way, but rather should go through legitimate and legal processes. There are at least three ways to do this: (a) constitutional convention; (b) constitutional assembly; and (c) people’s initiative.
Revising or changing the 1987 Constitution needs a viable and effective roadmap, a step-by-step process so that its success can be safeguarded and guaranteed, ensuring that efforts conferred on such a process of constitutional change is not lost once Duterte’s term ends.